Math game more effective than paper exercises

A study into the learning outcomes of the math game Monkey Tales by the Research Group for Media and ICT (MICT) of iMinds-Ghent University, Belgium, shows that the game scores higher than traditional arithmetic exercises on several dimensions. Children who played the computer game over a period of three weeks made significantly more progress than a group solving similar problems on paper. In addition, the game was found to be more enjoyable and a majority of the children wished to continue playing.

Computer game more efficient and more fun

To measure the effectiveness of Monkey Tales, a study was carried out with 88 second grade pupils divided into three groups. One group was asked to play the game for a period of three weeks while the second group had to solve similar math exercises on paper and a third group received no assignment. The math performance of the children was measured using an electronic arithmetic test before and after the test period. When results were compared, the children who had played the game provided significantly more correct answers: 6% more than before, compared to only 4% for the group that made traditional exercises and 2% for the control group. In addition, both the group that played the game and the one doing the exercises were able to solve the test 30% faster while the group without assignment was only 10% faster.

The quality of experience was also measured and showed that pupils found Monkey Tales more enjoyable (which was confirmed by a parent survey), that the game was described as being ‘fun', 'exciting' and 'fantastic' up to 80% more often than the paper exercises, and that 60% of the children wished to play more, while only 39% wished to solve additional exercises. Broadly speaking, it can be concluded that the game showed better results both in terms of motivation and learning efficiency. Further research should reveal how these additional learning outcomes are achieved by the game. Possible reasons are the continuous feedback players receive during gameplay, that the game is more motivating, that it adjusts the difficulty level to the player or - more generally - that it trains additional cognitive skills such as working memory and attention.

Serious games

Serious or educational games are becoming increasingly important. Market research company iDate estimates that the global turnover was €2.3 billion in 2012 and expects it to rise to €6.6 billion in 2015.* A first important sector in which serious games are being used, is defence. The U.S. Army, for example, uses games to attract recruits and to teach them various skills, from tactical combat training to ways to communicate with local people. Serious games are also increasingly used in companies and organizations to train staff. The Flemish company U&I Learning, for example, developed games for Audi in Vorst to teach personnel the safety instructions, for Carrefour to teach student employees how to operate the check-out system and for DHL to optimise the loading and unloading of air freight containers.

Games in education

The interest in serious games is also growing in education. The underlying idea is that children often have to acquire large amounts of knowledge and master complex skills to be able to play “entertainment games”. If educational games could be equally enjoyable or "intrinsically motivating", children would be learning for pleasure. Monkey Tales is a game that was developed according to this philosophy by the educational publisher die Keure and game developer Larian Studios. This three-dimensional adventure game exists in different versions for children from the second to the sixth grade and is designed to practice mental math in a playful way by solving puzzles and mini-games. Until now, no independent scientific research had been conducted into the effectiveness of Monkey Tales however. 

More information

iMinds-MICT-UGent, www.mict.be: Prof. dr. Jan Van Looy, J.VanLooy@UGent.be, T: +32 9 264 84 76
More information on the game is available at www.monkeytalesgames.com

Die Keure (publisher), www.diekeure.be: Vicky Vermeulen, +32 50 45 66 50
Larian Studios (developer), www.larian.com: David Walgrave, +32 9 225 79 00

*IDATE. Serious Games: Enjeux, offre et marché. Enseignement, Formation, Santé, Information & Communication, Défense (3ème édition). In-depth market report. November 2011. http://www.idate.org/fr/Research-store/Serious-Games_579.html